Stephen F. Paul (1953-2012)

Stephen F. Paul, a PPPL Physicist for 30 Years, Dies at Age 58
By Jeanne Jackson DeVoe

Stephen F. Paul, a principal research physicist at PPPL who worked on many projects over a 30-year career, from the Poloidal Divertor Experiment (PDX) in the early 1980s to, most recently, the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX), died on Saturday, Sept. 15, of pancreatic cancer. He was 58.

Philip Efthimion, Head, Plasma Science and Technology Department, said Paul would be remembered for bringing “enormous energy and enthusiasm to whatever he did.” He noted that Paul was collaborating with Columbia University while he was getting
chemotherapy treatments. “The illness couldn’t diminish his spirit or his passion for his research and work,” Efthimion said.

Paul grew up in Cranford, N.J. and lived in Princeton for 20 years before moving to West Orange about a decade ago.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in applied physics from Cornell University, he went on to earn his Ph.D. in plasma physics (under the supervision of Prof. Bob Gross) from Columbia University in 1981, the year that he joined PPPL. He worked on the S1 Spheromak and later worked on the PDX, the PBXM (the Princeton Beta Experiment Modification) and the TFTR (Tokamak Test Fusion Reactor). He worked on a diagnostic to measure the velocity of the plasma on the NSTX and was working on plasma spectroscopy and radiated power measurements before NSTX shut down for an upgrade in November of 2011.

“He was fully involved in fusion and very passionate about what we do here,” said Brent Stratton, head, Diagnostic Development Division, who worked with Paul since the late 1980s.

Paul’s specialty was plasma spectroscopy, which involved looking at the radiation emitted by ions in the plasma to find impurities that could interfere with the plasma’s performance in fusion experiments.

“He was one of the brightest, best informed and thoughtful persons about a vast area of knowledge in the Lab,” said Lewis Meixler, head, Technology Transfer and Applications Research.

While working at PPPL, Paul spent his time off developing an alternative motor fuel made from organic material found in municipal and agricultural waste, such as food waste, paper, leaves and grass clippings. He named it P-Fuel to accentuate his link with Princeton University. The material was patented in 1997 by Princeton University. Paul established a company, The Trenton Fuel Works, based in an abandoned municipal waste processing plant in Trenton, N.J., to produce the fuel. The company is still in operation and is being run by Paul’s partner.

Despite being ill for the past two years, Paul managed to collaborate with Columbia University’s High-beta Tokamak program on optical diagnostics as part of PPPL’s Off- Site University Research Program.“Steve was an outstanding scientist and very much loved by everyone in the plasma lab,” said Michael Mauel, Professor of Applied Physics at Columbia University, and co-head Columbia’s tokamak program. “Steve patiently guided our graduate students and helped several design and install a new plasma diagnostics.”

"Steve was a close personal friend for over 15 years," said Michael Weinstein, Professor of Applied Mathematics at Columbia University. "I feel lucky to have known him. He was a kind, generous, warm and caring individual. In addition to being a superb scientist, he had a vast and deep knowledge of diverse fields. Steve so enjoyed engaging in discussion over important issues and I've never met anyone more intellectually honest."

Paul was also very active in his synagogue, B’Nai Shalom, in West Orange. He was devoted to his family and is survived by his wife Gilda, of West Orange, who works in Princeton University’s Office of the Dean of the Faculty, and three grown children: Jordana Paul, Aaron Paul and Rachel Paul Yogev, along with her husband, Dean.

Funeral services were on Sept. 16. Donations in Paul’s name can be made to Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to support the pancreatic cancer research of Dr. Eileen O’Reilly or to the American Technion Society to support the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The family would welcome cards and emails, which can be sent to or to 61 Howell Drive, West Orange, N.J. 07052.

500 W. 120th St., Mudd 200, MC 4701 New York, NY 10027 / Phone: 212-854-4457 / Fax: 212-854-8257 / Email:

©2012 Columbia University